SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert (a Cal legacy!) leads his Mustangs in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl against the Mountain West tri-champion Fresno State Bulldogs
The bowl season continues with the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Where is the Hawaii Bowl? Well, unlike the answer to such questions as "How many teams are in the Big Ten?" or "How many teams are in the Big 12?" the name makes it obvious. Beautiful Hawaii, of course!
Tonight, the Fresno State Bulldogs and the SMU Mustangs will celebrate Christmas Eve by playing their bowl game in Aloha Stadium. It is difficult to think of Christmas in Hawaii without thinking of the Bing Crosby classic Christmas tune "Mele Kalikimaka," amirite? And when you think of "Mele Kalikimaka," who can forget the scene from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation when Clark Griswold can just see the backyard swimming pool he is getting his family for Christmas.
As for the game itself, Fresno State comes into this one as a tri-champion of the Mountain West, finishing 7-1 in the league (losing only to Boise State) and going 9-3 overall under first year coach Tim DeRuyter. SMU went a pedestrian 6-6 on the season (5-3 Conf-USA), but won four out of its last six to become bowl eligible. The Mustangs have a Cal connection at quarterback: Texas transfer Garrett Gilbert is the son of former Cal quarterback Gale Gilbert.
The Worldwide Leader gives us a preview of the game:
Fresno State (9-3) made quite a splash in its new league, posting a 7-1 record to earn a share of the title -- its first conference championship since 1999.
The Bulldogs have been dominant in five games since a 20-10 loss at then-No. 24 Boise State on Oct. 13, winning by an average of 25.8 points and scoring at least 42 in each victory.
They'll be trying to snap a three-game bowl skid after notching the program's fifth nine-win season over the past decade. Fresno State hasn't reached double digits in wins since going 11-3 in 2001.
Perhaps even more important is that the Christmas Eve game in Honolulu won't be the last in a Bulldogs uniform for junior quarterback Derek Carr. The Mountain West offensive player of the year announced following the team's regular-season finale -- a 48-15 win over Air Force on Nov. 24 -- that he would return for his senior year.
"Hard work pays off and I'm a firm believer in that," said Carr, who has completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 3,742 yards with 36 touchdowns and just five interceptions. "You know personally how hard you worked, when it comes to fruition like this and you get to hold the (championship) trophy, you know you've done something right."
The Mustangs will make their third postseason appearance in Honolulu and first since beating Nevada 45-10 in the 2009 Hawaii Bowl, their first bowl game in 25 years.
SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert, a Texas transfer, will make his first bowl appearance since the 2010 BCS national title game. He was a freshman coming off the bench in the first quarter for an injured Colt McCoy, finishing with two TDs and four INTs in a 37-21 loss to Alabama.
Gilbert completed just 53.1 percent of his passes this season for 2,720 yards and 14 TDs, but he hasn't been picked off in the last five games.
Bulldogs safety Phillip Thomas will try to end that streak after leading the nation with eight interceptions. He was named the Mountain West defensive player of the year and a Thorpe Award finalist as the nation's best defensive back.
Gilbert, though, is also a big running threat, as he's reached the end zone seven times and ran for a career-high 111 yards in the regular-season finale.
There's something else the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl reminds me of. The 1996 Aloha Bowl, on Christmas Day 1996. I was there. That was a fun trip. And the game was fun...for awhile anyway.
Takeaways from the 1996 Aloha Bowl:
1. Deltha O'Neal was good at football.
2. So was Tony Gonzalez
3. Cal defense under DC Tom Holmoe? Not so much.
Merry Christmas! Mele Kalikimaka!